The Bible makes many references to God’s wisdom. Some compare it to the wisdom of mankind. Ours tends to come up looking like foolishness in this comparison. Sometimes, as in 1 Corinthians 1:21, the wording is confusing: but that just makes it all the more fun to tease out the meaning.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks[b] foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
First, a little background on foolishness
We need to understand the audience Paul was writing to. This letter was to the young church, recently started in the city of Corinth: a major trade city in Greece. The Greeks were proud of their philosophers and claimed that any problem man had could be solved through reason and logic. There was also a large Jewish presence here, and they held up the Law of Moses as the basis of all wisdom. Scribes were specialists in the nuances of the Jewish Law. The disputers referenced here were Greek scholars specially trained in debate and rhetoric whose profession was to settle civil matters. In both cases we could think of our modern-day lawyers.
Paul and his companions, Silas, Timothy, and Luke, had come to Corinth some years before and preached the gospel of Jesus: namely that Jesus was God incarnate and that he allowed himself to be put to death as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind and anyone who trusts in Jesus and follows The Way (later to become known as Christianity) is saved from the condemnation of their sins.
Dissecting the wisdom of man
Verse 21 is the tricky bit: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
Let’s pull that apart and look at it:
- For since: Because
- in the wisdom of God: through the eyes of a wise and all-knowing God
- the world through wisdom did not know God: The world in general thought its own wisdom so superior that it had no use for God and rejected Him
- God through the foolishness of the message preached: God chose to use the message the world ridiculed as foolishness
- to save those who believe: to offer escape from condemnation to those who trusted Him and accepted Jesus as Lord
Summary: God chose to use what the self-proclaimed wisest of men ridiculed as foolishness to bring salvation to those who would believe.
It gets easier to understand from there:
For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks [b] foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
The Jews were forever asking for a sign from God that Jesus was who He said he was: even though the life of Jesus was filled with signs and wonders. The only sign the Pharisees were willing to accept was their anticipated messiah overthrowing Rome and establishing Israel again as the leading world power. When Jesus refused to become their military leader, they rejected him. He became a “stumbling block” to them and they killed Him to get him out of the way. Unfortunately for them, that is exactly what God wanted done to carry out His plan of salvation.
The Greeks put their own intellect above any god, so to them this whole notion was foolishness. Our modern society does much the same thing: putting our trust in politics and science instead of God.
But to any who will turn from their prideful ways and accept Jesus, they can claim the power and wisdom of God. God: Jehovah, Elohim, is the creator of everything we know. Even at His weakest moment, God is more powerful than any created man can ever be. Even at His most foolish moment, God is wiser than mankind ever will be.
Whenever we (mankind) stand up and push God away it’s like a bratty toddler shouting at his parent, “You’re stupid, I’m gonna do what I want!” and the results are generally about the same too.
New King James Version (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.